For All Mankind

For All Mankind movie poster

 

It was a weird experience to finally see the original film for the soundtrack to which I’ve listened to countless times. Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois’ Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks is a gorgeous piece of work, and very much colored my expectations of what the film would be. Having long pictured a largely abstract compilation of otherworldly lunar footage, I was surprised to find For All Mankind a more straightforward documentary than what was already in my head. (Bits and pieces from the compilation album Music for Films III also appear.)

Unlike In the Shadow of the Moon, the 2007 feature documentary on the same subject, For All Mankind exclusively uses original footage taken during the Apollo Missions, much of it by the astronauts themselves. The absence of new narration or footage rightly places the emphasis solely on the achievements of the original participants. But a drawback is that the interviewees on the soundtrack are not identified (the Criterion DVD edition includes an option to display subtitles identifying the speakers).

For All MankindOpen the pod bay doors, HAL

I have little to add to Matthew Dessem’s excellent review on The Criterion Contraption blog, or to my own thoughts on In the Shadow of the Moon. Three small observations:

  • I was completely ignorant that NASA first began spacewalks during the Apollo missions. I was under the impression they began during the space shuttle missions of my youth. In retrospect, it makes perfect sense that NASA would test spacewalks in orbit over the Earth before attempting to step out of a capsule onto the moon, but: Wow!
  • The astronauts were very conscious of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Each astronaut could bring one cassette tape to play on a portable deck, and one chose Strauss’ “Also Sprach Zarathustra”. Another describes seeing the moon surface up close as being like something from 2001.
  • Due to the film’s nature of being comprised of original footage, there’s perhaps too much of the astronauts goofing off in zero-G, and not enough of the spectacular lunar footage. But it goes to show that even the pilots selected for being the most sane and calm people in the word still turn to excited kids when playing in outer space (with the rare exception to prove the rule).

Criterion DVD info: http://www.criterion.com/asp/release.asp?id=54

Criterion Contraption review: http://criterioncollection.blogspot.com/2006/04/54-for-all-mankind.html

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In the Shadow of the Moon

In the Shadow of the Moon movie poster

 

In the Shadow of the Moon may not be the most radical or revelatory documentary ever made, but if the point was to get out of the way of some true American badasses and let them tell their story, then it should be counted as a success.

The DVD edition is introduced by co-producer Ron Howard, whom, along with Tom Hanks, is an avowed space-nut and maker of the great Hollywood retelling of the Apollo 13 mission. He doesn’t address the big question: why a big theatrical documentary on NASA’s Apollo Program, now? Is it simply that the aforementioned true American badasses are frankly getting on a bit, and that this is one last chance for them to strut their Right Stuff?

In the Shadow of the MoonI can see your house from here

The biggest clue is that the film takes pains to place the missions in a historical and political context of the Cold War, civil rights, the Viet Nam War, and the spate of assassinations the country suffered in the late sixties. When Kennedy called in 1961 for NASA to land a man on the moon within the decade, it was a truly audacious and inspiring moment. As astronaut Gene Cernan put it, “science fiction.” The almost incalculable amounts of money and impetuous were there, surviving even the assassination of the man that inspired the astonishing endeavor.

Time passes. Walls fall, the White House falls afoul of diminishing returns. Subtract the Cold War space race with the Soviet Union, and NASA reduces its ambition to decades of launching spy & corporate satellites and performing zero-g experiments in the Space Shuttle (although I must say detecting anti-matter sounds pretty cool), losing the Apollo 11 tapes, and apparently too busy with constant maintenance on the International Space Station to do anything else.

In 2004, Bush makes a fool out of himself by calling for NASA to land American boots on Mars by 2020. This time an entire nation rolls its eyes and knows it’s a flimsy, sparkly distraction from the many disasters of his term of office (and this, before Katrina). Maybe I’m stretching things to fine a political critique in the timing of this film, but that’s my theory. It’s a kick in the pants – in a time of crew cuts, tail fins, and assassinations, the United States landed on the freaking moon nine freaking times.

In the Shadow of the MoonI want my MTV

As a nobody web designer, I don’t mean to diminish the work of post-Apollo rocket scientists and brave astronauts; only that the momentum kick-started by Kennedy has sputtered out by almost any measure. After all, what has NASA done lately that one might call, bug-eyed, “science fiction”? I do love the Mars explorer robots Pathfinder, Spirit, and Opportunity, though! I love robots on Mars. Robots on Mars are neat-o, man. Hi, robots on Mars!

One gripe: In the Shadow of the Moon has a cheesy score, especially disappointing in light of Brian Eno & Daniel Lanois’ gorgeous music for For All Mankind, a documentary film of lunar footage from the Apollo missions.


Official movie site: www.intheshadowofthemoon.com

Buy the DVD from Amazon and kick back a few pennies to me.